Eric Idle OnlineMy Life


By , November 27, 2014 11:40 am

A few years back Glen Wexler asked me to write a foreword for his very funny book of Cows.    What I wrote is below.  But a year later this picture appeared at my house unexpectedly….  He had taken my joke and trumped it.    Read on and you’ll see how….

On Location In Greenland by Glen  Glen Wexler On location in Greenland.

Ciao Cow.

As everybody knows I probably know more about cows than anyone on this planet.  Actually that’s not true.   It’s a bald faced lie.  (Why bald faced incidentally, don’t bearded people lie just as well?   Surely they lie better because you can’t see their faces?)   Sorry I digress.

The thing is I’m a bit stumped.  This Glen Wexler person called me up and asked me to write a foreword for his book and frankly I don’t know a single thing about him, about photography, or for that matter about cows.  So I’m kind of stuck out on a limb here, busking as we call it, faking it, as my wife calls it, or telling the truth to the America people as your politicians put it.

So what do I do?  Do I come clean and leave the rest of the page empty?  Do I bullshit for a bit?   (Incidentally there’s a cow reference right there.)  Or do I try and pretend that my esoteric knowledge of cows in comedy somehow qualifies me to waste your time like this?  Because I do know a bit about cows in comedy.  Here’s what I know:

Cows are always funny.

 There is a cow in the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail.   It is thrown over the battlements and squashes a page.

“Fetchez La Vache” says the French Taunter, and the French knights appear with a cow which they load on to a  Trebuchet (which is French for a machine that chucks cows.)Preflight by Glen Fetchez la Vache!

We do the same scene in Spamalot.  We throw a cow over the battlements which lands on Patsy, Arthur’s page, every night.   And most matinees.  (Occasionally they miss.)  We even had a Cow song.  We thought it would be funny if we gave the Cow a sad and touching farewell song as she went off to war.  It wasn’t.

COW                           I’m just a lonely cow who has a dream

That each and every one of us is part of nature’s scheme

That somehow every single cow

Can make a difference to just how

This world is now today – it’s true

So here’s my final moo!


It was just too sad.   You can’t have an elegant Christian Dior cow singing a heartbreaking farewell and then being thrown over the battlements and expect to get a laugh.   We now care about the damn cow.   So here’s what I learned:

Cows aren’t always funny.

So it got cut in Chicago.  Not the first cow that got cut in Chicago, which is practically the center of the cow cutting world.  They even have a Hamburger U. there, which shows just how weird and strange they are.

So, let me see, cows… ah yes.   In Bavaria once with Monty Python we filmed the Bad Toltz Cattle Herd giving a performance of The Merchant of Venice. We shot lots of cows in Shakespearian costume wandering around the field with Shakespearian sub-titles and lots of mooing.

“What news on the Rialto Antonio?”

I played a very sincere German Theater critic: “The Merchant of Venice is a very difficult play for cows…”

Here’s what I learned:

Sometimes cows aren’t even funny in German.

So now what have I got?  Well frankly, nothing.   I have some chicken stories.  An odd tale about a duck.  What?   Say something about Glen?   Well, ok.  Glen is a seven foot Scotsman with a wooden leg whom I met Frog Rolling on an Eskimo trip in Northern Greenland.  We were sheltering in a sauna at a local bordello with an Icelandic babe called Splut… no I agree it’s a hopeless and pathetic lie.    You see I haven’t even met him.  It’s useless.   I’m dismal as a Foreword writer.  I’ve got nothing to say.  I didn’t want this job, I didn’t ask for this job.  I just wanted to be….a lumberjack!

So why did I do it?  Why did I take it on?   Well, honestly, I did it for the money.  The Publishers came to me and said “Eric we will give you thirty thousand pounds if you will write a foreword….” what?   They offered how much?  Nothing?   Jeeze.   Well that’s it then.   I’m out of here.   Let’s face it, if you don’t find these pictures funny on first sight no amount of forewords will persuade you otherwise.   So frankly enjoy.



The Cow through the Ages

The Seven Ages of Spam

Why the Cow almost became the symbol of America?

The Cow in Literature with regard to Jane Austen and Dickens

Fetchez La Vache.   A French Dairy Dictionary


For more of Glen’s work see:

The Rutland Isles

By , November 20, 2014 6:44 pm


by Eric Idle
Sunday, 9 February 2003

The Rutland Isles CD and calendar are available from

Pre-order the CD here

Download a sample from the album!


Read the press release!

At some point in the early 1980’s I got the idea of doing a documentary about a group of islands that don’t exist. What a terrific idea, I thought, a story of a place. Not just the story of a few people, but whole peoples, different cultures, different ways of life. They would be called The Rutland Isles and they would be a parody of a travel documentary with weird animals. We would visit strange places and use real documentary footage. I wrote quite a lot of material and then did outlines of a visit to six of these different islands – Poluçion, Paranoia, Amnesia, Contracepçion, Revoluçion, and Liberaçion. Nobody was interested. Not agents, not friends, not people in the media, not even relatives. Not even my dog. It was weird. The reaction was nada. Zero. Zip.

Fairly early on my main character became clear to me. I always heard his voice as that gentle insistent civilized informative voice of David Attenborough whose immensely popular and entertaining series on Life on Earth and its various inhabitants were just beginning on BBC TV.

I had just finished writing and directing The Frog Prince for cable and I would often sit around and play guitar with Ricky Fataar and Van Dyke Parks and Charlie Dore. I began writing songs for The Rutland Isles. I find this a great way forward in any project. About 1983 we went into a studio in Santa Monica and made some very nice tracks with this bunch of friends. I had spent a lot of time on the Caribbean islands of Barbados and Trinidad and the music we made then was heavily influenced by those great times. It still remains joyful and relaxed and this recorded music has always kept my love of these Rutland islands going. Imaginary music from imaginary places.

One day I was sitting around in the South of France when my phone rang. It was Hollywood calling. Don Simpson, a famous movie producer, and partner of Jerry Bruckheimer, had somehow got wind of my script, read it and loved it. He went on and on about it. He talked about Jonathan Swift how it was the greatest piece of satire etc etc – on and on for an hour. Non stop. How could I be anything but bowled over? At last, everything I had always wanted to hear about my project. I got off the phone totally blown away.

So, of course, this being Hollywood calling I had to fly immediately to New York to meet this man. Next thing I am in a smart hotel on Fifth Avenue ringing on the Suite door. A thin anxious looking man answers. This is Jerry. He looks kind of worried “Don’s not up yet” he explains and we have some coffee and bullshit until, from the wreckage of a nearby bedroom, Don finally emerges in a bath towel with wet hair looking kinda the worse for wear. But soon it’s all business as Don gets down to notes. He loves it, but of course things are going to have to be changed. To start with this is now a movie so we are going to need some characters. And a plot. I remembered an opening I wrote for The Meaning of Life, a long piece of prose about a plane crash in the open sea, where the hero ends up on the First Class Life raft. So that’s gonna be the movie. It’s now about a small group of people, a rock star, a TV journalist, a Bishop, a bimbo, and an angry politician, who arrive on the beach of a strange island.

A few years and several drafts later we are getting nowhere. It’s becoming clear to me that trying to shovel plot into what was essentially a documentary just isn’t flying. It’s now called And Now This. In the intervening drafts it has been called Hot Property as well as The Rutland Isles. It’s now about a guy who joins a US TV station and whose TV van washes ashore after a violent storm sinks their ferry, with an obnoxious TV presenter called Maisy whom he hates. They begin to broadcast from these islands which no one can seem to find or identify. Something very weird is happening and at the end, after having been kidnapped, they escape by boat just in time as – get this – the islands take off. That’s an image I always loved, a whole island group lifting off and sailing away into space. Water dripping off as they lift away. They were aliens you see….

But that’s the problem. The Rutland Isles to me are real islands, inhabited by real people. They are a parody of the real world, a way of laughing at the ways we look at ourselves and our cultures. It doesn’t work to have plot and character shoveled in. Don moved on to his own private tragedy and I picked up a new producer and good friend in David Giler who took the project to several studios while we played that form of touch football known as development. Various studios seemed interested but no one committed, and it eventually sank back into that sand bank that is the graveyard of good ideas….

OK. Flash forward. It’s 2002. I have just finished making my second mocumentary on the Rutles called Can’t Buy Me Lunch. I have had a very good time on it, playing the narrator, twenty five years older and still spouting on about the damn Rutles. This time he looks back at their influence on contemporaries such as Tom Hanks, James Taylor, Bonnie Raitt, David Bowie, Salman Rushdie, Mike Nichols, Robin Williams, Steve Martin and Gary Shandling. I have found the original out-takes in a warehouse in New Jersey and we have cleverly sunk up some of Neil Innes’ new old Rutle tracks. We have even sold it to Warner Brothers. So, what am I going to do next?

I like working for myself. I am the most agreeable of employers. Although an exacting boss I seldom disagree with myself and am very generous about time off to be with my family. So I get out the old Rutland Isles project. I play the music. Perfect. I still like it. And now cable is bristling with documentaries narrated by British men in shorts. You can hardly turn on TV without some Brit yapping away from an exotic location you have never heard of about some creature you didn’t know existed. Australians are torturing alligators and the language all over the screen. Nature is now big show business. Travel has its own channel. At last, I think, now everyone will get it. Right? Wrong. Still no one is interested.

But I don’t give up. Why don’t I just make this as an audio project? I can afford to fund that. My friend and partner John Du Prez comes out to California to work with me on a Broadway musical and once again falls in love with the California winter. He decides to stay. Great. So we set to work in Larry Mah’s tiny garage studio in Sylmar. There is barely room for John and his keyboards and computers let alone room for me to plug in a guitar. I have to stand in a closet to do the voices. But it’s fun. And it is executive free. And nobody says no.

I have written a bunch of new stuff and pulled out my favorite bits from a big box filled with old scripts and John and I write a whole raft of new silly songs and we set to in a big binge of recording in our tiny Valley garage studio. My main narrator is now Nigel Spasm, an irritating award-seeking journalist. After months of editing and re-recording and re-editing (shape is everything) the CD becomes two episodes from his award-seeking series. (There are over 498, 000 of these Rutland Isles: enough to keep Nigel on television for the next 25,000 years. ) The rest of the year is taken up with editing and mixing and finally we even make a 28 page calendar of pictures and postcards from the Rutland Isles, a full color spoof that you shouldn’t miss as it’s great value and only available on line.

So there it is finally: the CD mocumentary of Nigel Spasm’s visit to The Rutland Isles. Out on March 4th on BMG. I do hope you’ll enjoy it. It has been a labor of love and something I always knew I would make one day. I hope you’ll enjoy the CD, the web site, the Calendar and who knows perhaps one day the TV show…..

Eric Idle
February 03


The Eclectic Light Orchestra

By , November 6, 2014 5:51 pm


I Wanna Hold Your Handel.


Life has a very simple plot

First you’re here

And then you’re not.


I was working on a lyric when the mail thing dinged and distracted me. Fortunately the Person from Porlock now has his own website, and can interrupt almost anyone anywhere in the world who is writing.  Oh sure my poem is not exactly Khubla Khan but it’s a start.  And by the way, for those of you following the obscure Coleridge references, don’t you think that the Person from Porlock must have been his Dealer?   Why else would he stop and answer the door?

“Oh hello Mr. C. I got some really nice opium this week…Some reds, and a hemp enema…”

“Thank God you came man, I was waffling on about caverns measureless to man, desperate for something…”

Anyway, my interrupter was a P.R. Person from Porlock.  Well Porlock Place, just by the BBC.   I promised what?   I’d write a piece for The Telegraph.   By when?    Shit.  On what? A History of the Pythons from my personal view?   Oh God, no.   Say it ain’t so.   Can’t I write about Coleridge?  What can I say about Python that hasn’t been said, read or written about ad infinitum?    Sure we weren’t as funny as Coleridge but we didn’t have half the laudanum he took….

Writing about Python is self serving and vain, I said, and there are bad things about it as well; but these PR people are agents of the devil and she would not be shaken off. I have to cough up some tendentious memories of the Old Cleese Snake Gang or they won’t print what we really want, which is to seduce you into coming to see Not The Messiah, (He’s a Very Naughty Boy) at the Royal Albert Hall on October 23rd where I am appearing with my Spamalot co-creator John Du Prez, who will be conducting 260 musicians: The BBC Symphony Orchestra, The BBC Chorus, and Pipers from the Royal Scots Guards, as well as Michael Palin in full drag, Terry Jones as a Welsh Miner, Terry Gilliam as a Mexican and Carol Cleveland and Neil Innes, in a full Choral re-telling of The Life of Brian in Oratorio form: a kind of cross between The Nine Carol Service, The Messiah and The Last Night of The Proms.   And yes there are sheep, and candles and angels and snow and even Bob Dylan and what?     I really have to say something about Monty Python now.

Alright. Let me say simply that if you are going to roll around in pig shit in drag on top of the Yorkshire moors, or gallop around Scotland on imaginary horses in soggy woolen armour, or intend to be crucified for three days in Tunisia, then these are the finest bunch of chaps you could ever wish to roll, ride or be crucified with.   The irrepressible Palin, the ebullient Jones, the mercurial Gilliam, the aloof Cleese, the implacable Doctor Chapman puffing placidly on his pipe:   this was a gang to be in all right.    And it was a gang, not just a Gang Show, and in angry mood storming around the Television Centre looking for a confrontation with Management, fully grown BBC executives would hide.

There were only supposed to be thirteen shows. The group fell together almost accidentally in early 1969 when the Children’s show Do Not Adjust Your Set rammed into the remnants of a Marty Feldman-free At Last It’s The 1948 Show, scooping up the pieces into a bizarre and unlikely team, which found it could communicate easily and criticize freely, and largely without rancour,  and while we had no idea what we wanted to do with this new show the BBC had so casually granted us, we did know what we didn’t want:  a typical Light Entertainment Show, with singers and punch lines and an ebullient host greeting us with the words “And Now For Something Completely Different.”  So yes, we did want to shock, to challenge, to epater les bourgeois, to make the viewer sit up and wonder if this was even the right channel.   No producers, no voice of reason suggesting something might be tasteless.   Tasteless was the point.   Indeed one of Python’s greatest strengths over the years has been to provoke revealing outbursts from sacred cowboys.  (The Bishop of Southwalk, Malcolm Muggeridge, Mary Whitehouse, wives of US Senators…)   It’s hard to remember there was a  time when we were almost universally hated by large sections of society.   Now that we are the cuddly old farts of comedy I rather miss this hatred.

Laughter is what I remember most. I don’t think I ever laughed so much in my life.  It was a writers commune.  For the first and last time in Showbiz history the Writers were in charge. All material had to be auditioned out loud.  If we didn’t laugh we sold it to other comedians.  The Pythons wrote in pairs and Cleese would always read out Chapman/Cleese sketches and Palin would always read out Jones/Palin material.  I was on my own.  But it left me free to edit and assess.  I have always thought of myself as the Python wicket keeper.   I could tell when the ball was turning and when we could get a quick leg-side stumping and when to change the bowler.  It was portmanteaux comedy – a trunk full of different styles of comedy material glued together by Gilliam, whose cut-out art provided a reassuringly cheap-looking kind of spurious continuity, forming a Victorian Theater frame of images around these disparate sketches giving the illusion of some kind of theme which we would then pretentiously overstate: “Man’s Inhumanity to Man in the Twentieth Century” or  “Whither Canada?”

Cleese, who always gave the impression of being somehow above the proceedings, would unleash devastating readings of his sketches destroying us, killing us, and occasionally we too would make him laugh, and his huge frame would lie full length on the floor roaring out loud and rolling around in merriment.  The Doctor would chuckle.   Gilliam would greet new material with a broad grin, Jonesy could go off into unexpected hysterics and Michael laughed freely and sometimes uncontrollably: once  when Cleese nailed him with the Cheese Shop we thought some kind of medical intervention might be needed, and indeed a fresh bottle of Sancerre, prescribed by our own doctor, had to be applied before he calmed down.   Graham of course, from St. Bart’s hospital, was studying to be a fully qualified alcoholic.   Typically, none of us noticed.

It is an odd thing to do comedy and we were an odd bunch. And it was not undergraduate humour, we are all graduates thank you very much.  Perhaps our best achievement was managing to stay together long enough to segue from TV comedy into movies.   All in all we managed fourteen years and that while we turned from young men into husbands and fathers.  And do we still get on?  Yes.  We do.   So there.   Of course we bicker and bitch and gossip and moan about each other, but you just try attacking one of the others and see what you get.

People ask what it was like, but so absurd and improbable is the story of Python’s success and so implausible its ability to survive and spread round the world, that it is beyond the reach of any metaphor.   Perhaps only Coleridge could have found the right words to explain the unlikely survival of this most unlikely show. And then he’d probably say something Shlegel had said anyway.


Eric Idle.

California September 2009

 I just recently found this.

There are still a few seats left for Not The Messiah, at Carnegie Hall, New York on the 15th and 16th December